Monday, January 21, 2013

Why the Inauguration of Barack Obama Besmirches Dr. King's Legacy

                                                                                 -by Leroy Jenkins (Guest Writer)

Today. Monday January 21, 2013, President Barack Obama will be inaugurated into his second term as the Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces and leader of this great nation. To many, it would only seem fitting that, on this momentous occasion, the president should take his oath of office on the Bible that once belonged to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Given that this event also falls on the same date as Martin Luther King Day, in many ways it represents the maturation of a country that has come full circle and gotten past a long and bitter history of exploitation and disenfranchisement of it’s Black minority. Not only have we as a country chosen to have a Black man lead our country, but have also validated his leadership by awarding him the maximum amount of time that we can possibly give to any occupant of the Oval Office. This event speaks volumes of the progress that we have made as a nation. And what better way to commemorate such a milestone than to do so on the day designed to commemorate the struggles faced by people of color and with the tool that the man at the front line of that struggle used for guidance.

…so why is it that doing so would be an affront to everything that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died for?

If we take a look back at the legacy of Dr. King and what he stood for in its entirety, the answer is really quite simple. The core of who Dr. King was is that of a man filled with a radical, unequivocal, and unapologetic love for humanity. This unwavering commitment to mankind and to truth is what made Dr. King a relentless critic of unregulated capitalism, imperialism, the military industrial complex, and the many institutions within American society that facilitate racism, poverty, and war. This was a man whose depth of vision realized the interconnectedness between the neo-colonialism that drove the Vietnam War and the poverty and disparity of wealth that people of color were subjected to back home. As he said in his 1967 speech The Casualties of War in Vietnam, the bombs that were dropped in Vietnam exploded back home. They exploded in the city slums, barrios, and reservations from which the government siphoned off billions of dollars to fund its neo-colonial cause while ignoring the thousands of black, brown, and red people suffocating under poverty’s grip.

Dr. King new what the consequences were of an America who refused to recognize the right to self-determination for indigenous peoples. He knew what would become of a United States that touted its commitment to democracy while sustaining the regimes of authoritarian dictators in Latin America. He also knew the great risk he was taking if he were to speak against these practices that led us into the Vietnam War.  On April 4, 1967, exactly a year before he was assassinated Dr. King followed his conscious and broke his silence on the war by giving a speech at the Riverside Church in New York City entitled Beyond Vietnam.  As a result, many labeled Dr. King a traitor, leaders of the NAACP rebuked him, and his ally in the White House Lyndon Johnson no longer supported him. He spoke out against the war not because it was strategically smart for the Civil Rights movement, but because it was morally right to a man who knew what our country would look like in the future if only one aspect of it’s morality was appealed to. What he saw is a country that is not much different from the one we live in today.

When we compare Dr. King’s vision of America to the America that the policies of President Obama reflect, we see just what a stark contrast there is between the two men. President Obama has been a trailblazer in the use of unmanned drones that terrorize and take the lives of hundreds of innocent people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Yet again, the bombs that those drones drop are felt in the inner city where schools that lack the proper funding and resources are put on the chopping block and are offered up to private corporations to manage. Similarly, every air strike made by the fighter jets Israel purchased with the billions of dollars of annual military aid that the US sends is felt by the growing number of homeless families across our country who are out in the street while hundreds of thousands of homes remain unoccupied. The President’s complacency with the rampant penchant for war and the endemic poverty that plague these United States finds itself at odds with the radical pacifist from Montgomery, Alabama who warned us of those in power who spoke of peace while rolling the drums of war.

This Dr. King I speak of is not the watered down version that is found in our schoolbooks. Because to highlight his view gives legitimacy to criticism of the way our country was operated and still has been since the turn of the twentieth century. But even when we speak of the one-dimensional Dr. King we are told about in school, the heroic master of civil disobedience that shattered the institutional racism brought on by Jim Crow. When we speak of this Diet Dr. King who never criticized our ruthless capitalistic, imperialistic, and militaristic society, we overlook the fact that the Jim Crow he relentlessly fought against is still very much alive and well in our present society. All across the country in the same inner city schools were you find people of color living in poverty learning about Dr. King’s inspirational life, you find a school-to-prison pipeline that criminalizes those students for minor misconduct. So we find ourselves with a system where a growing number of young people of color are treated as criminals before they are given a chance to understand the nature of their behavior.

At the same time we find ourselves with a justice system that allows private corporations to exploit and profit from the growing number incarcerated Americans, an overwhelming majority of which come from those same schools that forwarded their misbehaved children to uninterested police officers rather than concerned educators. As this Prison Industrial Complex grows we see that people of color, especially those in the grips of abject poverty, are living under a new mutated form of Jim Crow, immune to the vaccination of the Bill of Right, and much harder to cure. The New Jim Crow thrives of the War on Drugs, the Prison Industrial Complex, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline, all of which the President has refused to address or even acknowledge.

Dr. King’s vision stretched much further than just giving basic civil rights to a minority population that lived with out them. His vision is one that called for a revolution in this country. When he gave his speech at Riverside Church, Dr. King made it clear that he was a man of moral consistency and he knew that the injustice of refusing people of color their rights was just as morally depraved as the injustice of not allowing the people of Vietnam to break away from their French colonizers. Dr. King let the world know that he was against the imperialist, neo-colonial character of our nation and that he will not be silent about it because it affects every facet of American society. To many people, it is not a coincidence that Dr. King was assassinated exactly one-year to the day that he broke his silence on Vietnam. Because if Dr. King had his way, we would be living in a much different America than the one we find ourselves in. An America shaped by the his interpretation of the very Bible that will be used later today as President Obama takes his Oath of Office.

Given his record, the President is a far cry from the man that Dr. King was. He has effectively maintained the institutions that Dr. King denounced, and remained complacent in the enactment of policies that perpetuate their influence. For the President to take his Oath of Office on the Bible that acted as the moral compass to such a man who died fighting against the very powers that the President serves is a great insult to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Not only is it an insult but it will also cheapen his legacy of a man who spoke out against the war crimes in Vietnam, who spoke out against the horrors that the Jim Crow system bestowed on people of color, who spoke out against the poverty that ravaged the richest nation on the planet. All this is enough to make one shudder at the thought of the President placing his bloodstained hands on the document that served as the source of inspiration, guidance, and strength for a man who tirelessly wrestled against a violent, imperialistic society with nothing but an unrelenting message of peace and love.

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